Old Hamlet- an hallucination?When Old Hamlet appears in the bedroom scene, Cordelia cannot see him. Yet she was as much a part of the dead king's life as Hamlet. At the play's start, the Old King...

Old Hamlet- an hallucination?

When Old Hamlet appears in the bedroom scene, Cordelia cannot see him. Yet she was as much a part of the dead king's life as Hamlet.

At the play's start, the Old King Walking was a topic amongst the watch. Could it be they were just telling ghost tales to pas the time?

Hamlet himself is very emotionally needy, very vulnerable to suggestion. The soldiers could later have been telling him what they knew he wanted to hear.

Shakespeare knows all about hallucinations, particularly seen when drunk and under stress (Banquo's ghost in Macbeth.)

Is it possible, just possible, that Old Hamlet was an hallucination in the broken mind of a distressed and bereaved young prince

Asked on by snonskoid

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auntlori's profile pic

Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

There is only time Hamlet sees the Ghost when others do not, and that is when he is talking with Gertrude in her mother's chamber. The Ghost has made it pretty clear that he wants to protect his wife (remember that he tells Hamlet to leave her alone), and not letting her see him is probably one way he hopes to protect the woman he loves.

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Shakespeare's audience loved supernatural events, especially the appearance of ghosts. The ghost of Old Hamlet must be accepted literally because it is through the initial appearance of the ghost that the antecedent action of the play is revealed to Hamlet, which acts as the inciting incident that puts the plot into motion. Hamlet could not have hallucinated the very specific information the ghost of his father communicated to him.

The ghost of Banquo and Caesar's ghost might be viewed as hallucinations, I suppose, since they are related so closely to Macbeth's murdering Duncan and Brutus's part in Caesar's assassination. No one else at the banquet saw Banquo's ghost--only Macbeth--and Caesar's ghost appeared to Brutus while he was alone in his tent. It is interesting, though, that in Macbeth, an actor is assigned the role of Banquo's ghost, perhaps to suggest that the ghost is real and not an illusion. In Julius Caesar, however, no actor appears as Caesar's ghost.

And then there is the matter of the daggar in Macbeth. Macbeth describes it in detail, even as it turns bloody before him. No prop is used in the scene. Is this to suggest Shakespeare meant for the daggar to be Macbeth's hallucination, or is the scene accomplished through Macbeth's monolog because Shakespeare lacked the physical means to do it any other way? Even Macbeth questions if the daggar is real or exists only in his mind!

I think Shakespeare's audience more likely interpreted and enjoyed these supernatural events as being "the real deal," but I'm sure Shakespeare himself was aware of the deeper psychological implications.

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jseligmann | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted on

It's important to remember that, during Shakespeare's time, ghosts and witches were believed in by lots of people. Don't take your skepticism about such apparitions with you when you go to see or read a play or other literary work of the sixteen hundreds or before. And let's face it; there are still plenty of people today who believe in the existence of witches, ghosts, demons, angels, etc. Yes, plenty.

The fact that Marcellus, Bernardo, and Horatio all saw the ghost, certainly leads one to believe that he is to be taken seriously. And it is one of their accepted attributes that ghosts can appear to whomever and wherever they please.

So the fact that Gertrude (not Cordelia, who is in "King Lear") doesn't see the ghost does not mean that the ghost is only in Hamlet's imagination. The ghost may have his own reasons for not appearing to his one-time wife.

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lj1994 | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

Old Hamlet- an hallucination?

When Old Hamlet appears in the bedroom scene, Cordelia cannot see him. Yet she was as much a part of the dead king's life as Hamlet.

At the play's start, the Old King Walking was a topic amongst the watch. Could it be they were just telling ghost tales to pas the time?

Hamlet himself is very emotionally needy, very vulnerable to suggestion. The soldiers could later have been telling him what they knew he wanted to hear.

Shakespeare knows all about hallucinations, particularly seen when drunk and under stress (Banquo's ghost in Macbeth.)

Is it possible, just possible, that Old Hamlet was an hallucination in the broken mind of a distressed and bereaved young prince

Have you considered that maybe Hamlet was schizophrenic and invented the characters Horatio, Marcellus, Bernardo, Francesco and the ghost?
It could be possible as none of these characters talk to anyone in the Danish court except for Hamlet himself. All these characters also see the ghost, yet when Hamlet see's the Ghost in Gertrude's bed chamber she doesn't.

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ecalamia | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

If you would like to argue this point, it is necessary to account for the fact that, in the opening scene,  Horatio saw the ghost as well.  Throughout the play, Horatio is presented as a credible witness: philosophical, rational and knowledgeable;this makes it hard to claim that the ghost is just an illusion, but not impossible. For instance, one could claim that Horatio 'sees' the ghost in the beginning as an act of loyalty to Hamlet, but this seems implausible because of the terrified way that Horatio acts in the presence of the ghost.

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